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Warrior Archetypes XI: Durga - Defeating Demons

She rides out of the sky on the back of an enormous and bitterly fierce tiger. Every one of her ten arms holds a weapon, and she wages war on the forces of evil. Yet although she comes across in every other way as the implacable warrior, Durga is always shown with a serene smile on her face. Nothing, not even the struggles of cosmic existence, mars her supreme self-confidence. She is both the Lady and the Tiger, and one of her titles is The Inaccessible. Durga is a virgin goddess, not in the sense that she has no sexual relations, but that she belongs to no one fully. Unlike a modest Hestia-type virgin, however, she is a formidable warrior, and there is nothing retiring about her.

This implacable lady is one of the consorts of Shiva the Destroyer, and she shares a job with him: Slayer Of Demons. Unlike Shiva and Parvati, their relationship is remarkably nonsexual; instead, they are comrades in arms. They ride out together to destroy the legions of evil that constantly threaten the Earth. In Hindu thought, however, demons are not otherworldly creatures that come to plague innocent mankind; instead, they come in two varieties: Fears and Illusions. The two are brother and sister, or perhaps parent and child, as one springs from the other. Scratch an illusion and you’ll find its progenitor, the fear that it was created to hide.

Light is both a gift and the curse, and we must always remember that this much Light must cast an equally huge shadow. The other side of Light is the home of the gods of Darkness, where the facade is turned around to clearly reveal that dark side. It is teeming with small demons of fear and illusion. They swarm like cockroaches, and from this side it is easy to see how beleaguered the Light actually is, how fragile is its life. The Superhero - the modern incarnation of a Durga archetype - is constantly in danger of being eaten alive from within. In order to be a real Superhero, the first enemies you must take on are those internal demons, or they will eventually sabotage you. Durga does not pretend that everything is Fine, that those demons are held at bay in a far land. She goes after them with a fierce immediacy that proves she knows their real power. They are her first priority, her first opponent.

It’s a purifying act, slaying fears and illusions. In reality, the second bunch generally have to be slain first, and their dead bodies are the evidence pointing to the fears that they mask. It’s hard for any person to admit that they are so imperfect as to need a constant discipline of demon-destruction. Yet this is the difference between real self-confidence and the feigned version: to leap just as bravely upon the internal demons as the external ones. Part of the problem is that you get no applause for dealing with internal demons. Nobody sees the terrible battle, no one is awed at your bravery, and most people don’t even seem to think that you’ve accomplished anything particularly impressive. That lack of applause can keep an insecure person hiding from their demons for years. After all, one gets so much more public acclaim from burying your demons and looking good on the surface. The inner work can wait until later, they decide.

In the myth, Durga comes forth to slay a great demon that has literally dethroned all the gods, and they are cowering from its fury. It’s certainly a Superhero calling, being the one to ride out to save the day, yet this is no easily-disposed-of monster. It changes shape, from one destructive visage to another. First it is a great trampling buffalo, then an enormous elephant, then a giant with a hundred hands. She must change her attack each time, not letting it fool her, until finally she manages to spear and kill it. This shapechanging demon is a good facsimile of the "social demons faced by the warrior's pride; they come in many forms, but they are all frightening. One might be the sneering face of disapproval, another the averted yawn of boredom, still another the impatient face of annoyance. Social expectations, whatever they may be, are a many-faced trap that it is all too easy for someone to fall into. They can also hamstring whole parts of a society’s psyche, and that of the individual psyches within it.

This is the kind of Superhero we need. It is someone who is strong enough to brave the demons of social approval and disapproval, and destroy the monster who embodies those irrational and harmful rules. In an ironic twist, the hero whose karmic job this is happens to be terribly vulnerable to just that demon. She must steel herself and swing true, even as he changes shape and comes at her again with a new insult, a new cutting comment, a new attempt to kill her self-confidence. It’s the kind of power that can dethrone gods, since those who lose simply become its minions. We all hope and pray that in the end, we can find a way to win.


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